Ohio State Football Predictions: 5 Sleepers to Watch for the Buckeyes in 2011

Eddie WaltersAnalyst IIJuly 15, 2011

Ohio State Football Predictions: 5 Sleepers to Watch for the Buckeyes in 2011

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    All of the negative energy surrounding the Ohio State football program aside, it's time to make some preseason predictions and talk about five Buckeyes poised for breakout season.

    If I would have told you a year ago The Ohio State Buckeyes would have a new coach for the first time in 10 years, and would be starting a true freshman quarterback from Week 1 as well, I would have been called crazy.

    Well, It's true.

    Luke Fickell has taken over for Jim Tressel, and Braxton Miller will most likely fill the void left by Terrelle Pryor.

    All of the NCAA investigations aside, the 2011 season should be a fun one for Buckeye Nation. With so many young but talented players in line to make their mark on the university this year, it's exiting to finally see these underclassman that were highly-touted recruits in high school get a shot.

5. Braxton Miller

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    Braxton Miller would be higher on this list, but he's been the most talked about name for an Ohio State player this offseason not named Terrelle Pryor. Still, Miller looks poised for a big freshman campaign in 2011 and he should become a house-hold name by midseason.

    Braxton Miller has great athleticism as he demonstrated during his Senior year at Wayne High School where he rushed for over 900 yards. More impressively for Miller though is his fluent throwing motion, which at this time is already a head of where Terrelle Pryor's throwing motion is now.

    Miller threw for over 2,000 yards last season for Wayne, and utilizing his smooth, quick release will be key for his success as a freshman.

    Also playing in Braxton Millers favor is that he was a four-year starter in high school, and when watching him play, one can see the leadership skills he possesses in the huddle.

    Miller has a lot on his shoulders heading into the 2011 season, but if any player is up for the task—it's No. 5. 

4. C.J. Barnett

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    C.J. Barnett started the 2010 season looking like the next-in-line of great Ohio State safeties, but his season was cut short in week two's win over Miami—where Barnett played the best game of his young career.

    Barnett is a physical safety who has more of a linebackers mentality, which mean's opposing players should keep an eye on where No. 4 is roaming in the secondary at all times. 

    There will be a lot of new players starting on defense next year for the Silver Bullets of Ohio State, but one thing's for sure—the Buckeyes will have a great one in C.J. Barnett manning the secondary.

3. Jake Stoneburner

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    With likely a freshman quarterback starting and a crop of young but talented receivers—redshirt Junior Jake Stoneburner should be the most reliable target for the Buckeyes in 2011. 

    Stoneburner stands 6'5'' and 245 pounds, and with his unique blend of size and athleticism—Stoneburner looks poised to have the best seasons at tight end that the Buckeyes have seen in years.

    Jake Stoneburner proved to be a reliable target in 2010, catching 22 balls for 223 yards and two touchdowns. Now that may not seem like much, but it's actually the most from an Ohio State tight end since 2003. 

    I would not be surprised one bit if Stoneburner led the Buckeyes in receiving in 2011 and became the focal point of the Ohio State offense—he has the sure hands and athletic ability to be the favorite target of Braxton Miller.

2. Etienne Sabino

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    Etienne Sabino was the No.1 rated linebacker in the country for the 2008 recruiting class (according to Rivals) , and after red-shirting his Freshman year and playing behind other great linebackers the past two seasons—It's finally Sabino's turn in 2011, so lookout.

    At 6'3'' and 242 pounds with a 4.6 forty—Sabino has about as good a mix of speed and power for a linebacker that you'll see in the country.

    Buckeye Nation has been waiting for Sabino for years now, and after seeing hits on special teams like these—it's no wonder why.

1. Roderick Smith

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    Most of the talk about Ohio State's deep stable of running backs centers around Dan Herron, Jaamal Berry but, Roderick Smith looks like he could be the best of the bunch. 

    At 6'3'' and 225 pounds, Smith is an elite mix of size and speed—drawing comparisons to former Buckeye running back Beanie Wells. 

    With Dan Herron suspended for the first five games and Jordan Hall being moved to receiver, Jaamal Berry and Roderick Smith will likely split carries the first few games—but I fully expect Smith will be named the starter at some point this year even with the return of Dan Herron.